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How one journalist exposed the unbelievable origin of 'The Gospel of Jesus' Wife'

Posted June 20

It took trips to Germany and Florida, an interpreter, dozens of phone calls, lessons on spotting forgery and a very persistent journalist, but the mystery of the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" may finally be solved.

"For four years, Karen L. King, a Harvard historian of Christianity, has defended the (document) against scholars who argued it was a forgery. But Thursday, for the first time, King said the papyrus — which she introduced to the world in 2012 — is a probable fake," The Atlantic reported on June 16.

King's admission came less than a day after the magazine released an investigative report on the origin of the papyrus fragment, in which journalist Ariel Sabar learned who had given King the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" and exposed him as a fraud.

"By every indication, (Walter) Fritz had the skills and knowledge to forge the Jesus'-wife papyrus. He was the missing link between all the players in the provenance story. He'd proved adept at deciphering enigmatic Egyptian text. He had a salesman's silver tongue," Sabar wrote. "Perhaps most important, he'd studied Coptic but had never been very good at it."

King first shared "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" with the public at a 2012 conference in Rome. The "tiny fragment of ancient Egyptian papyrus … included one sensational half-sentence: 'Jesus said to them, 'My wife,'" The Boston Globe reported last year.

The announcement was followed by front-page reports in the Globe and The New York Times, sparking a flurry of predictions about how the discovery would affect modern Christianity.

Some scholars were skeptical from the beginning, noting strange grammatical errors and highlighting excerpts that appeared in other ancient documents. But the papyrus fragment passed a variety of lab analyses.

It "appeared to be of ancient origin, and the ink had no obviously modern ingredients," Sabar reported.

The academic community was stuck: Many scholars continued to reject "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" but King defended it.

In his article for The Atlantic, Sabar explains how Fritz could have faked the fragment, why he might have done so and how King could have been fooled.

"I asked Fritz whether there was anyone alive who could vouch for any part of the provenance story," Sabar wrote. "Did he have a single corroborating source to whom he could refer me?"

"I don't," Fritz told him. "It's very unfortunate."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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